Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 5 July 2010

Confederation for Sudan: Is it a good idea?

By Zechariah Manyok Biar

June 4, 2010 — National issues sometimes are very complicated, especially for leaders who have a lot of difficult questions to deal with. In the world of today, nations have the duty to take care of their neighbors. It is not like the world of the nineteenth century when it was easy not to be the keeper of your brother.

The late leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) Dr. John Garang de Mabior had a lot of enemies in the South during the North-South war because he repeatedly said that he was fighting for the liberation of the whole Sudan that would be based on new way of governing. How easy that liberation of the whole Sudan was remains with Dr. Garang in his grave today. But we who are still alive are not free from the burden of taking care of our brothers and sisters who are suffering in other parts of Sudan; if at all what we fought for was the freedom for the marginalized people.

The question that I had to struggle with over the last few years was how to take care of our suffering neighbors in other parts of Sudan under the united Sudan without falling into the bottomless fit of suffering with them. In other word, how can we not abandon the Nubians, the Eastern Sudanese, and some Northern Sudanese who fought on our side during the North-South war without endangering our own freedom? On the other hand, how can we feel good when we see the same marginalized people suffering under oppressive system and pretend that we do not care for people outside South Sudan? For the sake of emphasis, how can we turn a blind eye to those who support us in the North? These questions are beyond a mere style of public relations or the need for the scoring of political points. They need selfless thinking.

I advocated for the secession of South Sudan and the peaceful co-existence between the North and the South in my writings over the last two years because I had no answers to the above questions under unity or secession choices that we are entering into next year.

I am still standing my position that the only solution for differing systems in North and South Sudan is secession. Not that secession will solve every problem we have in South Sudan (I should be honest that we will have scores of other problems that we will face even without North Sudan’s influence in our affairs) but that secession is simply the only model that we have never tried in Sudan.

What if we tried self-rule for some times in the future and North Sudanese learned from our successes or failures and became a changed country, ruled under secular law that we advocate for, would we initiate the reunification discussions in order to take care of those who were for us during our suffering or would we pretend that we do not see their suffering? If, on the other hand, we think we care for the suffering people in the North and we need to reunite the country to take care of them or give them freedom that they need, then who will initiate the talks for the reunification between the independent North and South? Are we ready for these discussions now?

Here is what I am driving at: the talks about confederation should not be thrown away with bath water, simply because we are fed-up with the system in Khartoum. We have the ability to know what is good and what is bad for us in negotiations. We should not be the people who appear on the side of unconcerned when we know that we fought for the freedom of the marginalize people, most of whom fought on our side during the war.

We need to look into confederation proposal and ask some questions: How will the confederation look like? The report from the Sudan Tribune seems to give a glimpse of what the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) negotiators are thinking about. According to the Sudan Tribune report, “The confederation model entails a system where two countries achieve a high degree of autonomy while maintaining a minimal central authority in areas such as trade, defense and foreign policy.” It sounds good, at least to me.

The next question would then be: Would the referendum take place first to find out whether South Sudanese want to secede or not before the formation of confederate government? This is the question that is not yet answered under the proposal. If the answer is that the referendum will take place before the formation of the confederate government, then many Southerners may buy the idea of confederate government. But questions are not yet over.

If we have the President of the confederate, what levels of power will he or she have? If the defense will be at the level of federal government, does that mean that the army in the South will be mixed with that of the North? If the answer is that the army of South Sudan will cease to exist and be mixed into the federal army under the confederate government, then the confederation is a bad idea. But if South Sudan will have its army like it has today and North Sudan has its army and the Join Integrated Unit becomes the confederate army, then I have no problem talking about confederation now. The powers of the federal president will then be limited during the talks. But we are not yet satisfied here, I guess.

The pressing question then is this: Will we still share the oil under the confederate government? Many Southerners who are bitter against the system in Khartoum will say no to the idea of sharing of resources with the North. That is understandable. But don’t we have the duty to pay back to those who stood with us during the war against the system that we did not like? Do we hold everybody, including innocent women and children in the North, as our enemies that should not eat from our plates? Think about it!

My answer is that we can share the oil with the North under the confederate government as long as we remain with our independent army to protect our interest, both locally and internationally. I have no problem sharing resources with our brothers and sisters suffering in the North, regardless of whether they were for or against us during the war. I have no problem sharing resources with brothers and sisters in the North as long as the federal government will be based on secular laws, exempting North Sudan from these laws until they choose to adopt them. I have no problem sharing resources with anybody in this global world.

Remember how we South Sudanese survived during the war all over the world? We survived in the hands of the international community who has the duty to take care of its neighbors. We are not exempted from this kind of duty.

In conclusion, I favor the confederation that will leave South Sudan with its army, secular government system, and a freedom that we want to have in governing ourselves. A confederation is not a bad idea because it answers some tough questions that we cannot answer under unity-separation-only model. But this confederation will only be an option if South Sudanese have chosen to be a different country in 2011. The confederate government will give both the North and the South a bigger market that we desperately need in the world of today. East Africa would be part of this market, too. So, the need to cooperate with East Africa is not the excuse for the throwing away of the idea of confederation with bath water.

Zechariah Manyok Biar, BA. Edu., MACM, MSSW. He can be reached at manyok34@gmail.com